Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ahoy hoy, Aetodactylus!

Thus far, North America has not produced a wealth of toothed Cretaceous pterosaurs. One was discovered sixteen years ago: Coloborhynchus wadleighi from the mid-Cretaceous of Texas. Now the total has been doubled with the discovery of the slightly later Aetodactylus halli, also hailing from the Lone Star State. It was discovered by fossil hunter Lance Hall, then studied and described by paleontologist Timothy S. Myers of Southern Methodist University. Myers has published his description in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Like so many pterosaur fossils, the remains of Aetodactylus aren't exactly complete. All Myers had to work with was a fifteen-inch lower jaw, but it differs enough from similar pterosaurs to warrant the designation of a new genus. Myers classifies Aetodactylus as one of the last known ornithocheirids, a family of toothed pterosaurs. Assuming that this classification is borne out as other paleontologists weight in, and that the jaw represents a full-grown specimen, Aetodactylus would have been one of the smaller members of the family, with an estimated wingspan of nine feet.

While not all pterosaurs fit the stereotype of being soaring fish-eaters, Aetodactylus fits the lifestyle nicely. The fine sandstone in which this jaw was found was at one time the sediment of a shallow, abundant coastal area, and the rock around the jaw was littered with bits of fish bones. And the fifty-four teeth studding the lower jaw would have been perfect for snaring a tasty seafood dinner.

More: Discovery, Science Daily, Southern Methodist University.

UPDATE: just dropped a whole bucket of fail on this puppy, with a story headlined New Toothy, Flying Dino Discovered in Texas. They must have deemed fact-checking optional for this sloppy regurgitation of the SMU press release. Aetodactylus is called a dinosaur four times in the story, all within passages added to link together quotes from the press release. Fair, balanced, and frickin' lazy!

UPDATE 2: Edited to reflect debate over exactly how Aetodactylus fits in with other pterosaurs taxonomically.

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